Half-empty towers, deserted forecourt, restaurants without customers… The existential crisis of the La Défense district

By Guillemette Faure

Posted today at 4:16 a.m., updated at 4:56 p.m.

It was in December 2021, between two waves of Covid-19. Sogeprom, a property developer and subsidiary of Société Générale, organized a conference to exchange ideas on the future of the office. “Do you prefer to come or be in video? We are at Defense I was asked. The remote option was fine with me. Two days later, another call asked participants if they would travel in case the meeting took place in Paris. The meeting was finally held in a room rented for the occasion near the George-V station, in other words six metro stops from the Esplanade-de-la-Défense station.

Despite its beautiful premises, Sogeprom knows that people are dragging their feet to come to the business district, which is far from having regained its pre-health crisis population. How many people are missing in what is the largest tertiary center in Europe? A quarter of the 180,000 people who worked there before the pandemic, according to Paris La Défense, the public establishment which manages the district. The Sodexo inter-company restaurant, located in Les Collines de l’Arche, planned for 2,000 people, only serves half of them, “and again, it’s the high average”, according to one of its officials.

Read also: With compulsory telework, Defense deserted by its employees

While the business district was criticized for being overwhelmed by its flows – illustrated by the queue for the escalator which allows you to get out of the RER A – confinements and teleworking have shown that we do not live there. necessarily better by being less numerous. “During the confinements, I totally lost the habit of lugging 45 minutes by metro or RER”, says Marc (several of the interviewees wished to remain anonymous), 29 years old. At the end of 2020, he returned to work in a digital agency, moved from Paris to La Défense for the sake of economy, by introducing teleworking. His company imposes two days a week on him in the office – two days too many, according to him. Since he works with developers in Romania and other European countries, when he arrives at the office, he puts his headphones on.

Empty open spaces

“At each meeting, there is at least one participant in conf’call. Each time I tell myself that I could very well not have come. When I’m there, I can’t get up to make a coffee or sit on the couch.” sorry Mark. Add to that that empty open spaces can be grim. Companies that “return floors”, as they say in La Défense, generally go to flex-office at the same time as partial teleworking. “Whoever arrives the earliest gets the best seat, otherwise it’s the entrance or the hallway…”, says Marc about the new organization of his agency, housed in a coworking space. In business, positions are no longer allocated while they are still at the kitchen table, at home.

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